Congratulations are now in order for the dung beetle Onthophagus
taurus, which has just been named the world's strongest insect, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
bodybuilders may pump iron, but these brawniest of bugs lift poop and each
(Two males of this species comparing horns. Credit: Alex Wild)
Rob Knell from Queen Mary, University
of London and Leigh Simmons from the University of Western
Australia found that the strongest of these beetles could pull 1,141
times its own body weight. That's equivalent to a person lifting close to 180,000 pounds (the same as six full double-decker buses).
Like all elite athletes, these insects must watch their diets too, although their choice of food turns human stomachs. The researchers discovered that if even the strongest male individuals didn't eat much you-know-what over a period of about a few days they were reduced to weaklings.
The beetle's strength, however, is mostly due to battles over desired females.
"Insects are well known for being able to
perform amazing feats of strength," explained Knell, "and it's all on account of
their curious sex lives. Female beetles of this species dig tunnels
under a dung pat, where males mate with them. If a male enters a tunnel
that is already occupied by a rival, they fight by locking horns and try
to push each other out.”
The scientists tested the beetle's ability
to resist rivals by measuring how much weight was needed to pull a male beetle
out of his hole.
"Interestingly, some male dung beetles don’t
fight over females," said Knell. "They are smaller, weaker and don’t
have horns like the larger males. Even when we fed them up they didn't
grow stronger, so we know it's not because they have a poorer diet."
He added, "They did, however, develop substantially bigger testicles for their
body size. This suggests they sneak behind the back of the other male,
waiting until he's looking the other way for a chance to mate with the
female. Instead of growing super strength to fight for a female, they
grow lots more sperm to increase their chances of fertilizing her eggs
and fathering the next generation."